LEED versus Green
The following article was published by Greg Raffio, LEED AP, with Heapy Engineering.
Three years ago, my team of graduate engineering students was presenting the energy, environmental, and economic analysis for the construction of a net-zero energy building. The client patiently listened, asked questions, and then dictated a verdict… we had the financial green light. Years of analysis, research, and calculations had paid off.
Next, we assembled a professional design team to take the project from concept to concrete. The house would have it all: net-zero energy use, a sustainable project site, low water use, and sustainable materials. The idea of LEED certification was brought up and immediately dismissed by the team. Why would our building need such a stamp of approval when we knew just how good the design was? No one knew just how wrong we were. Throughout the various stages of design, our student team lamented as the green features were removed. Once completed, the building would retain its net-zero energy status, but had lost all other important green features.
My current projects are larger and more expensive than that small house. But, the values of the lessons learned during my final years as a graduate student are greater than any that I have learned. I have come to realize the true value of the LEED rating system as a necessity to truly attain sustainable (”green”) design.
During my career, I have seen project teams make 70% of the design decisions while spending just the first 1% of the design budget. Thus, it becomes a daunting task to retroactively set project goals … specifically sustainability goals. The less prominent the goal, the more likely the feature necessary to attain that goal will fall by the wayside or be ”value-engineered” from the project.
The LEED Rating System is a tool that a design team uses in order to insure that a project’s green features are properly designed, constructed, and accounted for. Human error pervades the construction process. Examples of such errors include ordering the wrong product, calculation mistakes, or forgetting a step in a process. The LEED process, by no means ensures a perfect building. However, many portions of the LEED process act to significantly decrease such errors. One of the most prominent examples is the commissioning process, which is a service that all owners will benefit from, regardless of project scope, size, or cost.
Once the entire project has been completed, the owner asks, ”What insures that I now own and operate a green building?” If the project has achieved LEED Certification, the team can be certain of their answer. The entire project team knows which goals have been successfully achieved, how much energy and water the building should save, and what type of indoor environment has been created for the building occupants.
A holistic perspective is necessary to grasp the true impact of a third-party rating system such as LEED. The LEED Rating system has two major components. First, LEED promotes general sustainability oriented features such as bike racks and daylighting. Second, LEED is a group of ”best-practice” codes and standards compiled to influence the construction industry. When projects pursue LEED Certification, the market is driven to provide goods and services that attain the standards that have been chosen. Each LEED-Certified project strengthens the green building movement, pushes for products that are less impactful on people and the environment, and enables property owners to truly know just how ”green” their building is.